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The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Weirdest Things Countdown

Ever since Michael Shermer wrote Why People Believe Weird Things he has been asked to list the strangest beliefs he’s come across in his quarter century as a professional skeptic. Naturally the criteria of what constitutes “weird” is necessarily subjective, so he considered not just the error of the belief but the wider impact the belief has on society.

As we count down to the new year, we have compiled this list into The Top 10 Weirdest Things Countdown—a printable PDF that you may download for free and share it in this format, as our gift to you, to thank you for your ongoing support during our Annual Fundraising Drive for 2015–2016.

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14 Comments

  1. Agabu says:

    The top ten weirdest things countdown is a curious literary piece. No doubt some of the things on this list Michael compiled are weird. But the inclusion of God is the real oddity here, contrary to Michael’s assertion that God is one of the weirdest things. Indeed the real oddity is believing God doesn’t exist especially when one considers the fact that the majority of people on the planet are theists. Now, I’m not saying that just because the majority take God seriously enough to accept His existence means it’s true that He is real. Far from it. If God is real, believing He is there doesn’t make Him any more real. Conversely, believing He isn’t there doesn’t make Him any less real. If God exists, He really exists whether we believe it or not. That said, I am saying though that believing in God’s existence isn’t weird but rather a very usual phenomenon given the breadth of it among people on the planet even as the statistics Michael quotes show.

    Michael may say that calling belief in God a “weird thing” will be offensive to some (if not to all), and then proceed to claim that this is about being intellectually honest and consistent so as to mitigate how offensive his prior assertion really is. Indeed it is offensive. What makes it so offensive is its overt condescension. Telling the majority that the God they trust in is weird because proof of God allegedly doesn’t meet the high evidentiary standards of science and reason when He is such a common object and subject of belief among the masses is unreasonable. Cowering behind the sciences and claiming there is substantive evidence that God and religion are human constructs is misleading. Not all gods are equal after all, let alone the same. Truth claims with respect to God are not the same although they may share some common features. For instance, Islamic claims are different from Christian claims and can’t therefore be lumped into the same pot. Certain gods and religions are indeed evidently human constructions. But God is in a class by Himself especially when belief in Him relies on His initiative to reveal Himself and not on our ability to call Him up at our discretion in order to satisfy the curiosities of the unbelieving.

    The only thing honest about Michael’s analysis is his own biases against God. After all he does say that he doesn’t believe in any such God as is conceived among the masses. God isn’t one of the weirdest things just because an ivory tower few say so and co-opt science in that regard as if science has so shown God’s existence to be completely and compellingly untenable. Once again, I have to make the observation that Michael’s clearly subjective biases against God are the problem here not a supposed lack of evidence for God’s existence.

    The top ten weirdest things countdown ends up having a weird anomaly pointing in Michael’s direction. The assertion ‘God doesn’t exist’ is a weird thing. That Michael holds to it is strange, at least to many of us who believe and have good reasons for doing so. Sorry Michael, but the burden of proof isn’t on believers to prove that God exists, it is on the few challenging the status quo to demonstrate that the arguments and evidence put forward for God’s existence historically and presently are inadequate and/or irrational. So, it really isn’t that theists have failed to prove God’s existence, allegedly by the high evidentiary standards of science and reason. It’s really that Michael and people of his ilk don’t have anything substantive to show that God doesn’t exist, which is why he tries to burden the theists with proving God. Appeals to science and reason are superficial and disingenuous. Science and reason point to God, not away from Him. If these tools lead away from God, Michael, show it. Otherwise, my baloney detector is saying you’re full of it.

  2. John Shepherd says:

    Agabu Contrary to your statement, it is the responsibility of the person contending that something exists to prove its existence – not the other way around. People contend, and many believe in, the Loch Ness monster, Big Foot, dragons, extraterrestrial beings, and a panoply of other creatures. According to your logic, everyone must believe in these things unless they can be prove otherwise.

    More in alignment with your contention: Please prove that Thor, Ra, Zeus, and the hundreds of gods humankind has believed in over the years did not, and currently do exist!

    • Agabu says:

      Indeed John, people contend, which is why we are all burdened with giving reasons for why we believe what we believe. Notice John that I never said theists aren’t burdened with giving proof or rather evidence for claims about God’s existence, because they most certainly are. My point is that so are those who claim God doesn’t exist. To sit on some pedestal couched in claims about the high evidentiary standards of science and reason is elitist nonsense. Both claims should be tested to the same standards because they are both positive truth claims saying something about reality while negatively impacting the contrary view. Michael and you John seem oblivious to the fact that contending anything including a claim such as God doesn’t exist places a burden of proof on the claimaint that holds that position. Because if it doesn’t the atheist is getting an unwarranted free pass if only to pretend that he has one, which he doesn’t. Furthermore, if the God doesn’t exist claimants default into thinking they are not burdened with giving evidence for their claims, this would make them the judges that decide the veracity of everyone else’s claims about God. Sorry but we’re all equally burdened for the claims we make.

      Far too many people believe in God, my good man, for any number of reasons that may be good or bad. The fact that there’s a higher number of people who hold that God exists than those that don’t means that the few have a greater onus on them to show the many that God doesn’t exist. In any case let’s not pretend that reasonable arguments and solid evidence haven’t been offered by theists, they have been. There is certainly no lack of evidence. You may accept the evidence for the claims or not but it’s there for each one of us to look into and analyse to see if these truth claims are so. For many of us the evidence is persuasive but for so few it isn’t.

      The thing is, everyone makes truth claims. ‘God exists’ is a truth claim. But so is ‘God doesn’t exist.’ This means both claims are burdened with giving evidence or reasons for why any of us should take them seriously. As regards to your challenge that I prove that Thor, Ra, Zeus, and the hundreds of gods humankind has believed in over the years did not, nor currently exist! Of course they don’t exist. They lack credible eyewitness testimony and documentary evidence, verifiable historical involvement with people and miracle working power, cross cultural appeal and a sustained transcontinental following and world changing, culture building influence that is going on even as we speak. The ancient gods are now locked in a cultural milieu and civilisation that isn’t here anymore and are now available to us as a mere curiosity that helps us understand the world then. I’m sure there are some isolated pockets of people who are so few in number as to be fringe elements on the global scene of God worship who may build a religion around Thor or Zeus. That is their choice to believe in old wives tales.

  3. Linda Rosa says:

    That’s a pretty good list. I would just add one other weird belief that plays havoc with a lot of children’s lives, and that is Pre-and Perinatal Psychology. While there don’t appear to be that many practitioners, their beliefs have become widespread. They believe that humans are most aware when they are a fetus, allowing the fetus to telepathically understand the pregnant woman’s thoughts. In this vulnerable state, the fetus attaches to the woman carrying it, but can also develop a severe mental illness called “Attachment Disorder” (an unrecognized diagnosis that demonizes adopted and foster children).

    Unfortunately, many child welfare workers and foster/adoptive parents have adopted PPP beliefs which has resulted in the creation of a “therapy cult” and all sorts of child abuse and even deaths. The only “therapy” that treats “Attachment Disorder” is quite literally torture, as is the associated parenting method.

    http://www.childrenintherapy.org/videos.html
    http://www.childrenintherapy.org/essays/index.html
    http://www.childrenintherapy.org/attachmentdisorder.html

  4. John Shepherd says:

    Agabu: You should read what Michael actually wrote. You made a fundamental error commonly made by believers. Michael did not say “there is no God”. To my knowledge he has never made that statement. What he did say is that he sees no valid evidence of God as conceived by most believers. If Michael had said there is no God, you might have some vague basis for your argument. Misstating him created a fatal flaw in your own argument. It is commonly believed by believers that non-believers believe there is no god. That is just the typical assumption made by believers of non-believers. Nearly all non-believers are just that; they just don’t believe in any particular god.

    I, like Michael, do not believe in god. Why? Because I also have seen no substantive, verifiable physical evidence to support the existence of an entity that possesses any attributes commonly given to “God” by believers. If you actually have references to any scientifically valid tests that definitely proves the existence of such an entity please provide them. I would be most interested. However, please do not provide the endless litany of Biblical verses, personal stories, recantations of visions, irreproducible “evidence,” and pseudo-science usually presented when such a request is made. A simple well-constructed scientifically valid, reproducible test with statistically significant positive results would be sufficient for me to potentially revise my view. For details on what constitutes a scientifically valid method try the Wikipedia.

    As I stated earlier, if you make an assertion of fact, you have the burden of proof. If you say “there are unicorns” and I say “I don’t believe in unicorns,” and want me to change my mind, all you have to do is show me one and, after an appropriate examination, I would likely agree that unicorns do exist. However, if you say “there are unicorns but there is no physical evidence of them” I think you are the one who should consider abandoning your belief in unicorns!

    Additionally, your own comment is very telling. Your statement; “Far too many people believe in God, my good man, for any number of reasons that may be good or bad. The fact that there’s a higher number of people who hold that God exists than those that don’t means that the few have a greater onus on them to show the many that God doesn’t exist,” is the essence of your argument. By your own admission, because the vast majority of people believe in something does not make it true. Scientific fact is not a matter of popularity!

    • Agabu says:

      John, I did read what Michael actually wrote. You say Michael didn’t say, “There is no God.” The problem is he does say so. In his piece he writes, “I believe that there is substantive evidence to show that God and religion are human and social constructions…” Now if God is a human invention as Michael writes, that in effect is saying there is no God no matter the insistence that he’s never said there is no God. He adds this assertion to a preceding statement that is well captured in your assertion that “he (like you) sees no valid evidence of God as conceived by most believers.”

      In any case, the idea that being a non-believer is just that is highly problematic. To say that a non-believer doesn’t believe in any particular God is more than being a non-believer. It is being unbelieving. There is no intermediate state between believing and not believing. Either one believes or one doesn’t. Unbelief is the antithesis of belief. Therefore, if one doesn’t believe that there is a God whether as conceived by believers or otherwise then it follows that one positively believes there is no God. Hiding behind seemingly innocuous terminology such as “non-believers” strikes me as disingenuous. Besides, Michael appeals to alleged research from psychology, anthropology, history, comparative mythology, and sociology to bolster his claim that God is a human invention. This John amounts to giving evidence for the non-existence of God. Nowhere does Michael even claim that God may exist or even exhibit an openness to it. He writes further, “I also note a problem we face with the God question: certainty is not possible when we bump up against such ultimate questions…” This is telling. As far as I can see, if this is true, this is tantamount to saying God can’t be proven. Even adequate evidence won’t do on such a premise. This level of skepticism is profoundly and unreasonably closed minded.

      Now God and unicorns aren’t on the same level. Do unicorns exist? I have no idea. I’ve never thought about the matter. Whether unicorns exist or not is of no use or practical concern at least with respect to whether people build religions or beliefs around them for worship purposes or to build a culture or way of life. God on the other hand is ideologically and practically relevant. Entire civilisations and cultures have been organized around particular understandings of God or gods and so has unbelief in God or gods.

      When it comes to my assessment that there are many more people who believe in God than those that don’t, I wasn’t saying that that proves God. I agree, truth isn’t about popularity. My point which I made in my earlier post was that the sheer breadth of belief in God burdens the naysayers with proving otherwise a little more than it does the “yaysayers” so to speak, at least to the degree to which they got to show why the majority are wrong.

  5. Agabu says:

    John, I decided to post this separately with regard to your challenge to provide as you say “a simple well-constructed scientifically valid, reproducible test with statistically significant positive results.” So here are some thoughts for your consideration.

    I believe in God. This means that I believe that that same God created our universe and everything in it. Now saying “God created the universe” renders a very specific prediction for us to test, namely the matter of the origin and existence of the universe. Now of course none of us were there when the universe came into being, but that doesn’t mean we cant forensically detect that it had an origin, and that something or someone like God was responsible for it. The assertion “God created the universe” is testable through observation and analysis of what creation entails, which is skill, knowledge, intelligence, capacity, aptitude or wisdom. If we treat the universe as the starting point for understanding how it got here, we wont get anywhere. A crime scene is never the cause of the crime. It is rather the scene of the crime, having in it evidence of the effects of the crime. In the same way the universe is the scene of cosmic creation. Therefore the universe is itself the chief evidence for as well as having within it evidence of the invisible yet very real God. “God created the universe” ends up being an eminently viable explanation for how the universe got here in the first place. If we properly treat the universe as the effect of creative power then God’s invisible qualities begin to emerge from a careful observation and investigation of its dimensions, how everything is arranged within it, and how certain things function particularly in our world. Inferring that God in the beginning made everything isn’t an unwarranted leap in logic at all, but a very reasonable deduction and/or inference to make from a simple consideration of the universe’s beginning; and its continuing existence, which is suggested in the law of conservation of energy. The universe bears the hallmarks of creative ingenuity. In this regard, the “God created the universe ” idea posits the universe as an extraordinarily ingenious contrivance. We detect design, laws, orderliness, big and small purposes and such. Yes some things remain unknown or seem to defy patterned configuration but that is no argument against God’s involvement but rather a testament to how finite our knowledge and wisdom are compared to the God who has no such limitations. We do well to keep that in mind. It is just as well that God was wise enough to make a universe that has stuff in it that stumps us and reminds us of our knowledge limitations. On this premise it is very reasonable to hold that in the beginning God did in fact create the universe and everything in it.

    On another note consider this, is the idea that God created the universe consistent with our background knowledge? I think it is. God doesn’t violate our background knowledge about how things work. Since God created everything, there is no reason to think He is like anything He made. His being is separate and therefore transcends the universe. He may not have any physical properties, but He has real being as well as characteristics pertinent to persons. His immateriality or in corporeality wouldn’t violate anything in our background knowledge because we know some things are immaterial like our own thoughts and feelings. Our brains may be the means or channel through which we do these things but they are not these things. God thinks because, He is Mind, He feels because He is all Heart, and He desires and wills things because He is Spirit. Once you start super imposing on God a body or brain, placing Him somewhere in space or putting Him at some point on the timeline in His divine essence, you got yourself an idol of your own making that’s confined to the sphere of creation.

    It should be asked also, is the God that created the universe simple? Indeed, God would have to be a simple, unified being. Here we’re just talking about the nature of the divine. There’s nothing complex about God being one, indivisible or unified. However whatever consists in that one indivisible being may be something of profound mystery. This would explain why some people have postulated a pantheon of gods. But such gods could often be fully explained. But a God whose being is one simple, unified seems like a better rationale seeing as a god one can fully explain would be no God at all and may be easily discarded. If God thinks, feels, wills things and acts according to His own desires, then we have a genuinely profound yet most reasonable explanation for the origin of the universe. Saying such things about God may seem abstract but it says things about Him we can relate to, because we engage in these things as persons ourselves. The idea that God is one unified being is so simple needing no further qualifications or explanation that both simpletons as well as the sophisticated can understand it if they think through it appropriately. The alternatives tend to be rather convoluted and/or superfluous. If God is a personal being having self-determination, this means that only He knows what is in His mind, just like only each of us knows what is really in our own minds. That God has been involved in history in both ordinary (regulating and holding together the universe in an ongoing manner) and extraordinary ways (creating the universe out of nothing) says something about how complex He may be personally, but that doesn’t extend to the simplicity of His being. In fact what it does say is that the one simple, unified being we call God has done all these things. It does make far more sense to hold there are no variations of Him or a pantheon of gods doing these things.

    Does the idea that God created the universe have good explanatory scope? I think it offers a better explanation than a naturalistic approach. Take the so-called problem of incompetent design for instance. It alleges to conceive of a better designed universe than the one we have. The problem is, it is nothing but a cheap shot with not a shred of substance to it, because it pretends to know better than a transcendent Creator at conceivably making a much better universe. If any human being can do things better than God, then that person is God and God isn’t. Even if we grant that some things are not like they are supposed to be (which we do have a good many of) like chaotic or seemingly random processes that may be very destructive and don’t appear to serve any purpose at all, that doesn’t mean that God is a bad designer. Allegedly incompetent design is really still part of the overall structure of the universe still existing as an arrangement within it in relation to other things. In other words, it’s still part of the pattern of the universe. In any case design contains within it an obvious series of compromises that ensure structural integrity and over all proper function. Indeed what may seem incompetent may actually be a simple compromise between parts of the whole to ensure the integrity and proper functioning of the whole infrastructure. So is God created the universe a bad explanation. It doesn’t seem so. It helps to explain a wide variety of data. It explains the laws of nature, the moral law within us, and our sense of awe.

    -The laws of nature delineate general relations proved or assumed to hold between things ordinarily albeit evidently prescribed and enforced by an unseen controlling authority ensuring things work the way they’re intended. The majority of people from all walks of life all over the world discern this to be God as their hearts are stirred to weigh and consider these things. This explains the huge scope of worship of the divine in general and the negligibility of those that do not.

    -The laws of nature are “written” laws in the “book of nature” as it were that in this regard we are able to detect. A transcendent God with transcendent knowledge and wisdom invented and spelled out the laws of nature. In being able to read nature’s laws we become a little wiser about God and His ways with His creation.

    -The fact of the moral law written upon our hearts influences how we may behave, given other people in our sphere. We tend to be as perceptive as we are glad to obey or respect this law because it helps ensure our progress, well-being and/or social standing.

    -The moral law within us exercises a dominating influence over us. Everyone has a conscience that commends them for doing right and condemns them for doing wrong. Since the moral law authoritatively directs, God is clearly the discernible reason it is written in us. He is the authority that spells it out in us and commands us to meet its requirements. We may not always obey it and even obstinately suppress it but we can deny its reality.

    -The sense of awe for the greatness of the cosmos, and more so for the all-powerful being that made it all. Our wonder and amazement in this respect is pure and simple.

    The natural and moral laws, and fear of powers greater than us help us detect the God who has rightly fixed these things into His universe, It isn’t a stretch at all to discern that God ordained or decreed these things to at least help our curious and thinking selves acknowledge Him as the creator of everything and thus worthy of our worship and adoration.

  6. John Shepherd says:

    Abagu – You present an interesting dialogue but nothing particularly new in this sort of discussion. To understand my point you should have reviewed the basic information on the requirements for supporting a science based hypothesis more carefully: Two basic requirements is that a scientific hypothesis be a positive statement and that it be falsifiable. Lets take your first example: “There is a God that created the Universe” is a positive statement and meets the first requirement. How can that statement could be proved false?

    If a statement is not falsifiable then it falls into the realm of faith or religion, not science. Judge John E. Jones III, a religious conservative, made that criteria very clear when he rejected the contention that “Intelligent Design” was science and could be taught in Dover DE biology classes. The proponents of ID used a number of arguments similar to yours that were rejected by Judge Jones as religious in nature not science.

    From the viewpoint of religion (or faith) your examples and contentions may have some validity but not from the perspective of science.

    I have always wondered (as have many others) why a series of well constructed, scientifically valid experiments that could definitively show prayer was effective in influencing human events have not been done. Perhaps they have but the results were negative?

    • Agabu says:

      John- First, thanks for the back and forth and for taking the time to respond on this issue.

      I’m glad you noted that the claim God created the universe as a hypothesis basically meets the first requirement of scientific inquiry, which is that it is a positive statement. However, you ask how it meets the second, falsification.

      As far as I know, I think I made a scientific case for the universe being a God created thing and in so doing actually lent it to being falsifiable.How so? I made basic appeals to history (the claim is historical in nature because it’s saying something about the past), forensics(research and analysis of information about the natural world maybe utilized to aid in detecting divine involvement over and in it), psychology(background knowledge analysis and how observing nature makes people think about God and its effects on behaviour), theology (how people develop their understanding of God) etc. God isn’t merely a religious matter. God is a supernatural reality that affects all of life. The sciences are part of life and therefore are equally affected by the existence of God to a great extent. How that all works out is what scientists like theologians, philosophers, physicists, biologists, archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists etc should discuss and debate especially when certain things overlap from one field of study into another.

      Research and analysis of the natural world may legitimately yield knowledge of God and His involvement with all nature as His creation. The contention God created the universe is falsifiable through research and analysis of the natural world, which may evince God created it all or didn’t at all. At the very least, finding evidence that the universe has always existed with neither beginning nor end can theoretically falsify the God created the universe claim as well as finding evidence that it popped into being all by itself however that is conceived. I’m persuaded that anything is possible in this regard.

      In the meantime the best available science suggests the universe had a beginning and got organized into what it now is either by God, nothing or by its own accord. Either way each is a positive statement about the origin of the universe that may be tesed. God seems a far more plausible explanation for it than alleging nothing or the universe being its own explanation. The incongruity of the latter claims is what is deeply problematic for many like myself who believe in God. It may well be that one of those approaches are actually accurate but no scientist has actually given evidence for any of those positions that is persuasive let alone adequate.

      • John Shepherd says:

        I also have enjoyed this dialogue Agabu.

        Again, you present some interesting points.

        You are correct that the current state of science can not provide a conclusive answer about the origin of the universe. However, you are using the convenient “god is in the gap” argument to support your position. Because the current state of our knowledge can not adequately explain something does not mean that “god” is responsible. You acknowledge that there are other viable hypothesizes to “a god created the universe” but have chosen to believe that one.

        Your perspective is that “no scientist has actually given evidence for any of those positions that is persuasive let alone adequate,” but none of the proponents of the “a god” hypothesis have offered any physical evidence to support that theory.

        This is were the issue of being able to prove a hypothesis false becomes paramount in this discussion. Developing logical consequences of a theory and testing those consequences is how scientific theories are validated. If those consequences can not substantiated then the theory must either modified or abandoned. If they can not be tested they are irrelevant. What logical consequence of “a god created the universe” could be used to prove that theory false? One can always say “I am not convinced because there is not enough evidence” or “I don’t find the evidence compelling” however, if there is no way that the particular theory to which you subscribe can be proven false it is not science, it is theology.

        I accept you do not see enough evidence to support other theories of the creation of the universe but, even if all of them are false that does not make yours true.

        Honesty consider this question: What physical evidence would convince you that a god did not create the universe? If your answer is “nothing” I think this discussion has run it’s course.

        However, I would look forward to another discussion on a different subject.

        Regards

        John

  7. Agabu says:

    John- The question of the origin of the universe is an important one. As a Christian I am committed to accepting claims on evidence. I believe what I believe on the basis of solidly objective evidence.

    I accept the claim “God created the universe” on the basis of objective evidence drawn from a careful analysis of the natural world. Of course, there’s another source of knowledge for understanding the origin of our universe besides a mere analysis of nature, revelation. But this isn’t the most pertinent matter for our purposes. The natural world is. Therefore, evidence appropriately accumulated with good reasons from an analysis of the natural world is what would convince me that God didn’t create everything. Not that some scientists haven’t tried to dislodge God from His seat as the Creator of everything with no real success (Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss & Victor Stenger come to mind). Understand though that I accept the claim God created the universe because I see evidence appropriately accumulated with good reasons from observing nature. In other words, I’m saying the universe and everything in it is itself physical evidence that it was created. I don’t believe in the god-of-the-gaps. This sort of god is of no use to me. I don’t believe in plugging God in those things we don’t understand and setting Him aside for those things we do. I believe if God created everything, He is involved with what He made at every turn. He relates to everything we know as well as everything we don’t. God’s never missing in action at any point. If God created everything, it follows that He also keeps everything He made going. He sustains it. This isn’t a god-of-the-gaps. This is the God who holds everything together at every conceivable level because He is the kind of being who can as the Supreme Being.

    I already laid out a rationale for the claim God created the universe that appealed to an analysis of the universe as the scene of cosmic creation, which, by the way, is a very scientific approach as far as it goes. You didn’t address those issues raised save to simply observe I made interesting points without offering anything substantive as a counterpoint. My objections to alternative views about the origin of the universe that are God-less is that they are incongruous thereby lacking explanatory power and explanatory scope. They seem to have an air of plausibility, but this to me seems superficial. A closer examination reveals that they lamentably breakdown due to their failure to account for the power and skill required to have a universe as organized as ours with the enormous amount of information underwritten into it. God-less claims of the origin of the universe consign design to being merely apparent even though nature is teeming with overtly meaningful things like processes, mechanisms, organisms, seasonal cycles, DNA codes, ecosystems, solar systems, successions of time, natural laws etc whose workings aren’t apparently so but obviously so. The sciences are built on a collection of a lot of data from researching and investigating nature. The knowledge gleaned from observing nature requires minds to research and analyse. With such in mind, it is really no leap in logic but rather an appropriately simple step in good sense to reason it required an even greater mind to make a universe that lesser minds could make sense of. The real irrationality is to think otherwise. And I will leave it at that.

    I don’t know what other subject you would want to venture in. I’m open to anything provided it is something I may have some knowledge where some perspective has formed.

    Cheers

    Agabu

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